Copyright 2003-2012 COUNSELLING IN FRANCE. All rights reserved.
Eliminating anxiety is
extremely rewarding work. When the brain and body are no longer in
“fight or flight” anxious mode, an incredible amount of energy is
freed up, energy that can be used to laugh, play, create, work,
love, and simply enjoy life.
Perhaps the most important thing to consider when working with adoption is attachment issues. However, even though parents and therapists must be aware of and educated about attachment styles and difficulties, it is primordial to stress that the adoptee child or adult does not suffer from “attachment disorder”. She suffers from full-blown, all-out PTSD. The war veteran “ain’t got nothin’ on her”.
“I am not good enough for Mummy to keep me. I was rejected, given away. And because it happened once, I have no guarantee it won’t happen again.” This is the core belief of an adoptee, and persists until, and if, she has children of her own.
So, if you are the parent, the partner, or even the therapist: expect and be prepared for not just anger; be prepared for rage. “You say you care about me, you talk about “love”… What the f*#k does that actually mean? Oh wait I know: my own mother loved me enough to give me away!!”
Yet this rage might be so repressed that it is difficult for the untrained eye to see. On the outside, the adoptee might appear to be prefect: a permanent smile, high-achieving, with perfectionistic and people-pleasing tendencies. One of my patients calls herself Chameleon. This little animal able to change its appearance on cue is her mascot, also because the Chameleon originates from an island off the African coast, like her. “When I came into my new family I was five years old. They asked me if I wanted to change my name. I said yes. They asked me if I wanted to straighten my curls. I said yes…I would have said yes to anything.” And then, seeing my face slightly contorted with worry, she flashes me her brightest, most beaming smile ever.
As a parent, expect the adoptee to attach too quickly, almost too easily to you, whilst at the same time quite possibly not attaching at all. Once you become aware of this inevitable distance, it might help to undergo some therapy of your own in order to come to terms that her idea of and tolerance to intimacy might not be the same as yours. It might be incredibly painful to realise that even though she will give you the maximum that she can, she cannot, at least for now, give you what you wanted so desperately. This is especially poignant in the case of mothers who adopt. You wanted a child so much, you went through horrific physical and emotional hardship trying to become a mother, you waited for so long, now she is finally here, except that- sometimes you have a feeling deep inside your gut as if she wasn’t really here. As if…she didn’t really want to be here, but is almost too afraid of upsetting you if she admitted it.
Be patient. Give it time, lots and lots of time. Be very careful of suffocating (smothering) her. This will only create more distance. The adoptee is often like a wild untamed animal; you can put a leash around her neck and pull her close, but as soon as you loosen your grip she will run. Or, to tame the wild animal, you can put a saucer of milk within a safe distance, and wait. Eventually she will draw closer. Eventually she will mirror your smile and smile back, but when this moment comes, do not assume the rift has been repaired. If you do, and reach out to pet her, you might get bitten. Let her take the initiative in everything, and let her come to you.
Intimacy is very hard for most people, but it is excruciatingly complicated for adoptees, because of the deep abandonment wound at the core of their suffering. Yet, this wound can absolutely be healed. And once it is, it opens up a whole new world of magical delight, the joy of true human connection. One of my patients, who was adopted, (into a highly dysfunctional family at that) is now happily married and a mother of two spunky adolescents, neither of which seem to need therapy. She takes enormous pride and joy in her family, the one she created and worked hard for. This patient has many times told me that had she not suffered so much as a child, teenager and young adult, she would never be able to feel the extent of the dizzying gratitude she feels for her amazing life now. And that is what makes it all worthwhile.